Art: What I like

I have rarely discussed Art on this blog. However, I recently featured some Edward Hopper paintings, and that got me thinking about paintings that I love to look at. So here are some of them. I make no claim to know anything about painting, so cannot discuss technique, or other matters. As the old saying goes, “I may not know much about Art, but I know what I like”. (Gellet Burgess)

Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441) painted the Amolfini Portrait in 1434. It depicts an Italian merchant and his wife at their home in Brugues, Belgium. I love the detail, including the reflection in the mirror, and the small dog.

Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980) was a Polish portrait painter who spent her working life in France and America. She painted in the Art Deco style, using bold colours and including stylistic representations of the period. Here are some examples of her work, including her self-portait driving a car.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was a Mexican artist who painted many self-portraits, never attempting to change her striking features. Disabled by Polio, then badly injured in a traffic accident, she was bedridden for years, and used art as therapy. Always politically active too, Frida was a member of The Communist Party. Here are two examples.

Diego Rivera (1886-1957) was the husband of Frida Kahlo, and a renowned Mexican artist best known for painting extensive murals. The following images are sections taken from much larger works.

Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935) was a Russian painter who was part of the Avant-Garde school. He was known for his colourful abstract images. I have a print of this one of his paintings, ‘The Red House’ (1932), but my wife doesn’t like it one bit, so it is in the loft.

Beryl Cook (1926-2008) was an English painter who specialised in larger-than-life figures, usually involved in various aspects of British social life. She injected great humour into her paintings, alongside acute observation of everyday activities. Here are two examples.

There you have a short insight into the kind of art I love to look at and admire. Feel free to mention your own favourites in the comments.

Churchill Quotes

I am not a huge fan of Winston Churchill. He may have led Britain through a difficult war, but at heart he was an aristocrat, an elitist, and a racist.

However, many of his quotes are gems, and worth remembering in modern times.

One for a certain Mr D Trump.
The price of greatness is responsibility.

One for the politically ignorant.
The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

One for Mr Biden to remember.
You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.

One for those who acquitted Trump to reflect on.
An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.

A prescient view of ‘Fake News’.
A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

Something for every country to consider, in the time of a pandemic.
Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have

One for nationalists and patriots to think hard about.
The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.

One that we can all relate to in the UK.
The British nation is unique in this respect. They are the only people who like to be told how bad things are, who like to be told the worst.

And the last one, for our consumerist society.
We are stripped bare by the curse of plenty.

10,000 Steps

Have you ever wondered why this seems to have become some kind of world-wide target to achieve every day? I have. Why not 12,000, or even 5,000? When my wife used to use a Fitbit watch, it made a noise and showed a picture of a rocket taking off when she reached 10,000 steps.

I have never counted steps. I work out my routine the old way. (Or at least I thought it was the old way)

My walking pace when out with Ollie is around three miles per hour. On harder ground this may increase slightly, and will surely decrease when walking in deep mud, or flooded fields. So if I am out walking for two hours, and I don’t sit down or stand still chatting for any length of time, I have walked around six miles. If I am out for as long as five hours in good weather, then that could be as much as twelve miles, allowing for short rests, or pausing to take photos.

Bur four hours in good weather is more usual, so let’s say ten miles a day in those conditions.

Assuming bad weather for almost nine months of every year, I walk for two hours each day. That’s six miles a day, seven days a week. So forty-two miles a week, in bad weather. Perhaps seventy miles a week when there is no rain or mud.

I don’t think I need to count steps.

But if you do, then here is an interesting short article about why 10,000 steps has become the ‘magic number’, and why you may not need to walk that many anyway.

My London: A Short Film

My good friend Antony sent me a link to this 24-minute film about the area of London where we both used to live. He grew up there, and I lived there from 2000-2012.

This is not the London that tourists tend to see, but it is ‘real’ London, and a short walk north of most tourist sites. It is also packed full of interesting history, as you will see if you get time to watch it. Presented by a Londoner who obviously enjoys his city, it took me back to where I lived, the streets I used to walk on every day, and the pubs and restaurants I frequented for the last years of my time in London.

Drummond Street, Albert Street, Delancey Street, The Black Cat Building that I lived so close to, and the bus stop outside the old orphanage where I waited for a bus to work if it was raining too hard to walk there. Mornington Crescent Station, my nearest tube station, just across the road from the flats I used to live in.

It is a sheer delight for me to watch this, and I hope you will too, to discover that there is so much more to London than Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square.

Thermopylae: The True Story Of The 300 Spartans

I have just read a good article about the Greek stand at the pass in Thermopylae, and how they sacrificed many lives to delay the Persian invasion. That happened in 480 BC, over 400 years before anyone had ever heard of The Romans.

Although glamourised in the film ‘300’, the bravery of the real men involved is quite staggering, even now in 2020.

An Alphabet Of Things I Don’t Like: D


Ever since I was first taken to a dentist as a child, the words ‘Open Wide’ have sent a chill down my spine. (Not a photo of me…)

In the early 1960s, the interior of the dental surgery looked like an execution chamber in an American prison.

Just look at that chamber of horrors! The Spanish Inquisition couldn’t do better! The drill is operated on a cable, and whirred so slowly as they drilled into your tooth, it made your jawbone ache. Most dentists were elderly men back then, and had a stern ‘chairside manner’ that did not involve putting their patients at ease.

It didn’t help that dental treatment was then free on the NHS, so we were supposed to be grateful for being tortured without anaesthetic. A filling was supposed to be tolerated without recourse to pain relief then. Not that I would have wanted the injection anyway. The glass syringes had reusable needles that looked as long as arrows.

And woe betide you needed to be put to sleep for treatment, as that involved ‘gas’, delivered through a big rubber mask strapped over your face. Even when you thought the worst was over, they would spray jets of freezing water onto your teeth that made your toes curl. Then you had to ‘Rinse!’ That meant drinking a glass of pink fluid that tasted like medicine, swirling it around in your mouth, and spitting into a shallow dish with a plughole at the bottom.

Dental health wasn’t that good then, to be honest. We ate too many sugary and starchy foods, and generally only brushed our teeth once a day. Added to that, my dad favoured abrasive ‘tooth-powder’ over toothpaste, and we were ignorant of the fact that it was damaging the enamel on our teeth.

Fast forward fifty years, and my current dentist has premises that look more like a nice hotel room with a designer armchair.

It helps that I have to pay now. I can still get a portion of free treatment on the NHS if I claim it, but I don’t bother. The staff treat me like a ‘customer’, and the friendly young Spanish dentist sits chatting before picking up any implements. He doesn’t even say “Open wide” any more.

But I still hate it.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: S

Salt isn’t good for you, so they say. It causes all sorts of medical problems, including the exacerbation of Hypertension.

But I like the taste of salt, and it has its place in history too. Right back to records of Roman times, we are told the importance of salt to that empire.

It was also used to preserve meat on long sea voyages, and to make it edible when it had been kept for too long in hot climates. Some foods benefit greatly from the addition of salt, to improve an otherwise bland taste. I like crisps (chips) that are salted, and I put salt on chips (French fries) to make them taste better. If I spend any length of time eating food that has no salt added, I can feel an actual craving for the taste.

We need some salt in our diet, that is a fact. But we also add far too much to what we eat in general, another fact.

These days, I no longer use the refined, powdery salt of my youth. I prefer sea salt, bought as crystals.

I like to rub this into the skin of any meat I am cooking, along with some black pepper. I also add it to the water before boiling most vegetables, especially potatoes. I could not imagine eating cucumber and tomatoes without adding some salt to them,

Bad for me or not, I just enjoy the taste.

Welcome, Burundi

Flag of Burundi. Vector illustration. World flag

I have had 38 views of my blog today, from the country of Burundi. I know the name of course, but very little about the country.

Here is a map showing where it is on that vast continent.

Some countries just tend to get overlooked. If there is no war, no catastrophic disease, and no contentious political issues, they are easily tuned out of our consciousness.
In my case, that has surely happened to Burundi.

I looked up a few snippets of information about the country.

The Twa, Hutu and Tutsi peoples have lived in Burundi for at least 500 years. For more than 200 of those years, Burundi was an independent kingdom, until the beginning of the 20th century, when Germany colonised the region. After the First World War and Germany’s defeat, it ceded the territory to Belgium

Burundi remains primarily a rural society, with just 13.4% of the population living in urban areas in 2019.

One of the smallest countries in Africa, Burundi’s land is used mostly for subsistence agricultural and grazing, which has led to deforestation, soil erosion and habitat loss. As of 2005 the country was almost completely deforested, with less than 6% of its land covered by trees and over half of that being commercial plantations. In addition to poverty, Burundians often have to deal with corruption, weak infrastructure, poor access to health and education services, and hunger. Burundi is densely populated and many young people emigrate in search of opportunities elsewhere. The World Happiness Report 2018 ranked Burundi as the world’s least happy nation with a rank of 156.

Sadly, it doesn’t sound like the greatest place to live, far from it. But it is now back on my radar, thanks to blogging, and a resident who viewed my blog today.

A Short History Of British Coinage

Here is something for you to watch and digest while I am away. My friend Antony sent me this 10-minute You Tube film that gives an easy to understand history of British currency since the time of Queen Victoria, to the modern day. It covers the change to decimal currency in 1971, and explains very clearly why all our coins are the size, shape, and colour they are.

If you are writing historical fiction, you may well find this to be a valuable resource.

And it also explains why I still use terms like ‘A quid’, ‘Ten bob’, and ‘Three half-crowns’.

And if you ever intend to visit Britain as a tourist, it will help you understand the coins in your pocket.